Before Tonya and Nancy and Nicole and O. J., people had to watch afternoon TV to get their daily dose of soap opera. And on Nov. 16 and 17, 1981, 30 million Americans — a daytime record — did just that, for the wedding of General Hospital’s Laura Webber Baldwin and Lucas Lorenzo Spencer. ”It’s the beginning of our lives and we’re together,” Luke told his lady, ”and that’s all that counts.”
Actually, that was probably what counted the least. For three years, GH had made a fortune — often more than $1 million a week in ad revenues — precisely by keeping Luke (Tony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) apart. Day after day, cruel fate and loopy megalomaniacs conspired to separate or terminate them — and the soap’s 14 million fans, tossed this way and that in a media maelstrom that included Entertainment Tonight segments plus cover stories in Newsweek and People, went wild. ”Luke and Laura were underdogs,” explains Francis, 34. ”Americans love rooting for the underdog, so everybody got behind their story.”
They sure did. ABC received nine sacks of L&L-related mail per week during the couple’s heyday; at public appearances, the actors were mobbed. Meanwhile, GH had become an audience- participation event. ”People were sending us wedding gifts,” Francis says. ”Receptions were held all across the country. It was a little scary.”
Scary, yes, but imagine ABC’s terror when an exhausted Francis chose not to renew her contract that year. Luke rebounded with Jackie Templeton, played by a nobody named Demi Moore, but the still-grieving audience balked. In 1983, Francis returned long enough to give Luke and Laura a happy ending, and then Geary quit too.
Gone but not forgotten, in 1993 Francis and Geary were wooed back to GH, which had slipped to No. 3; today’s Luke and Laura face downsized, ’90s-style problems. And while their return never inflated GH’s ratings to the figures of yesteryear, their nuptial notoriety lives on: ”Whenever Genie and I are introduced [at a public event] for the rest of our lives, they’ll run that clip of us saying our vows,” sighs Geary, 49. ”And every time they do, we’ll groan.”
Time Capsule: Nov. 16, 1981
Dead and Buried was alive and kicking in cineplexes, while Dallas was the place to be on TV. Readers were fascinated by Colleen McCullough’s An Indecent Obsession, and listeners investigated Hall & Oates’ ”Private Eyes.”